The Blinn College baseball team heads into the 2018 season looking to take care of unfinished business after bringing the Buccaneers back to the Region XIV Conference Tournament last season, but falling short of a NJCAA World Series berth.
"We are in a position where we expect to win the regional tournament," coach Harvey McIntyre said. "We are athletic and can pitch, so we have every reason to believe that we can do it."
Winning the Region XIV Conference Tournament would give the Buccaneers a bid to the NJCAA World Series for the first time since 2014, when Blinn finished fifth in the nation.
Last season, Morgan was the Buccaneers' strikeout leader with 59, and led Blinn in innings pitched (73.2) with 13 starts, while Gray missed a majority of the 2017 season due to an injury. Gray is a power left-handed arm with a good breaking ball who has a chance to be one of the best arms in the league, McIntyre said.
"Gray and Morgan do a really good job controlling the game on the mound and giving us an opportunity to win," McIntyre said.
Returning sophomores Zach Smith (Katy) and Cody Van Cleave (Cypress) are both capable of starting and relieving. Smith was second on the team in innings pitched last season (53.1) and posted the second-highest amount of strikeouts (50), while Van Cleave posted a 5-2 record last season and a 3.41 earned run average in 14 games.
"Van Cleave changed his arm angle this year and now can sink the ball, and he has always had a tremendous breaking ball," McIntyre said. "Smith has experience in every role possible for us and had a great fall, so we will lean on him."
Cody Collins (Bryan) returns to the bullpen after throwing 20 innings last season. He will be a consistent arm in the back end.
"The strength of the team will be our pitching, and we have enough quality arms where we can sweep," McIntyre said. "We have the most pitching depth that we have had in a while and our returners are really good leaders for our younger arms."
Returning behind the plate is catcher Marshall Skinner (Cypress) who earned all-region and all-conference honors last season. Skinner was fourth on the team in batting average (.350) and was second on the team in hits (57), while leading the Buccaneers with 15 doubles in 51 games.
"He is one of the top five players in our region and is a good leader," McIntyre said.
Skinner will share time behind home plate with returning sophomore Brandon Ashy (Cypress).
Zach Cherry (Houston), Dylan Bohnert (Anderson), Koby Collins (Sugar Land) and Mason Michalec (Boerne) return to the infield. First basemen Bohnert and Cherry are both physical, middle-of-the-order hitters. Koby landed the starting third baseman's role after a tremendous fall, while Michalec is adept defensively at multiple infield positions and has made big strides offensively.
Ardoin can play left and center field and will lead-off for the Buccaneers. Trinidad will start in left field and had a great fall offensively, while Bailey is a right fielder who can run, throw, and hit.
Incoming freshmen joining the pitching staff include right-handers Kasey Kalich (Victoria), Matthew Swick (Cypress), and Henry Bird (Alvin), and left-hander Ryan Day (San Antonio). They all add depth and consistency to the pitching rotation and will push for innings as starters.
Right-handed pitcher Bryce Miller (New Braunfels) will start the season in the bullpen before transitioning to a starter.
Lefties Chance Norman (Caldwell), Eli Riechmann (Houston) and Brice Armistead (Katy) each bring different strengths to the bullpen. Norman throws from a low angle that is tough on lefties, Riechmann uses a fastball and breaking ball to record outs and Armistead was originally signed to the University of Houston.
Freshmen Tyler Henson (Abiline), Jacob Millender (Houston), and Kyle Sweeney (Dallas) all will have opportunities to close. Henson throws a good sinker and Millender and Sweeney are power right-handers.
Incoming freshman Alec Sanchez (Waxahachie) will start the season in the outfield, but could eventually transition to catcher, while freshman Kevin House (Coppell) will begin the season helping out behind home plate.
Freshmen Gray Rodgers (Dallas), Jake Miller (Round Rock), Kade Woods (Bryan), Craig Mattes (Pearland), Hayden McGriff (Humble), Cameron Gibbons (Houston), and Elijah Saldana (Kyle) will give the Buccaneers depth in the infield.
"All of our infielders are athletic and versatile, so we have a lot of options," McIntyre said. "I love how athletic our position players are this year."
"I really like this group of kids, and if they believe in themselves then they will find a way to get to the World Series," McIntyre said.
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 36 NJCAA national championships since 1987.